VallDolina: making wines in a Natural Park
If you’ve ever visited Sitges, just south of Barcelona, and have looked back inland at the rugged hills that rise behind you, then you’ve seen the Massis del Garraf, the home of Valldolina, the very first winery that Rubén and I visited.
The Garraf doesn’t look much from the coast, just bare rocky slopes which in summer are hot, dry and uninviting. However, it’s a protected Natural Park, with amazing plants, including Europe’s only native palm. There are also specialities like breeding Booted Eagles and wild Herman’s tortoises. If you take one of the winding roads into the Park the landscape changes into one of rocky gorges, fragrant pine woods and tiny villages. Close to Barcelona the rocks are a deep red sandstone, quickly changing to a pale grey limestone riddled with caves, rock shelters and sink holes.
We met winemaker Raimon at the family home, Can Tutusaus, an imposing white house on the edge of the village of Olesa de Bonesvalls. The vineyards which supply Valldolina rise up behind the village in terraces, the higher you go the more beautiful the landscape; rows of vines in the valleys and pinewoods cresting the hills, with glimpses of the Mediterranean beyond.
Raimon took over the family farm in 1999, building on foundations laid by his father. Joan Badell had already gone back to making wine rather than bulk producing grapes but Raimon, who had studied oenology, decided to switch to organic farming and organic wines. Today he’s working towards using biodynamic principles in the vineyard and cellar and has just produced his first amphora wine, Clos Ardit. The vineyards which had been abandoned are back into productive use and he’s planting new vines too.
Raimon chose the name “VallDolina” as a nod to the “dolines” or depressions in the limestone where the vineyards are located. There’s very little surface water and the soil is thin and rocky. Vines have to be tough to grow here and yields are low. All this results in intensely flavoured, distinctive wines.
Anna, also an oenologist, has recently joined her husband in the winery. When we caught up with VallDolina a few months ago, it was Anna who took us up to the vineyards and showed us the latest developments in the cellar.
We walked up into the vineyards through the woods to see how the newest vines were developing. Here and there Raimon had been clearing long forgotten patches of terracing to replant traditional varieties. The 2017 harvest was unusually early, with low yields and the grapes ripening much faster than they should have and we talked about the implications this has had for this years’ wines. Unlike wine produced by industrial wineries, where variations in harvest are ironed out by sourcing grapes from multiple locations and artificially adjusting flavours, for a small producer annual changes in weather are crucial for the finished quality and taste of each wine.
Anna and Raimon are constantly innovating. Anna explained how they’re experimenting with leaving vegetation covering the soil between the rows of old vines, rather than ploughing it away as most people do. They’re aiming for maximising biodiversity on the farm. Like intensive wheat or oilseed monoculture in the UK, which creates virtually wildlife free spaces in our countryside, intensive grape production also results in an impoverished landscape. This is something that VallDolina wants to reverse.
The oldest vines are still grown as gnarly bushes but younger vines are trained on trellises. It’s always fascinating to be introduced to the very plants producing the very grapes that taste so good in the glass. Teeny tiny green grape flowers and then teeny tiny baby grapes that will ripen slowly over the summer. The farm has both traditional Catalan grapes: Xarel·lo, Parellada and Macabeu and international varieties like Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the astonishing Marselan. We have no idea why Marselan isn’t better known. VallDolina Nuet, which Raimon and Anna produce as a young wine, is an unforgettable inky purple explosion of fruit.
Back in the cellar we talked about (and tasted, of course) the latest developments. VallDolina produce reserva cavas and young and aged wines under the Penedès D.O. Whilst the entire range of wines are very acomplished, Anna was most excited about the winery’s work with minimal intervention production. After three years of development, Clos Ardit is fabulous. 100% Xarel·lo and aged on the lees in clay amphora for three months, it’s rounded and super smooth, with all the citrus, stone fruits and herbs of the variety. And we were excited to taste a new Marselan direct from the tank; this will be a no sulphite wine and looks set to be spectacular. For the first time Raimon and Anna were also producing an ancestral method (single fermentation) which wasn’t quite ready but which has now been released.
It’s always a pleasure to visit VallDolina and we can’t wait for our next visit.